Dealing with a Difficult Client

All of us must have dealt with and spent uncountable hours regaling others with some not-so-nice episodes with an unfair client. In fact, sometimes these clients or stories become legends and we wear those with more pride than war heroes wear their medals.

But, before we outline, say rules or tips to deal with a difficult client, let’s ask ourselves a question. Imagine you walk into your room, in a five start hotel, and your bed sheet is dirty, or you place an order at a restaurant and the waiter doesn’t turn up for half an hour. Now, be honest, and tell me how will you react?

First lesson, there is nothing that you can call “unfair” in this world.  It is all about perception – when you do it versus when it is done to you. Perception! When you prepare for something and an entirely different problem is thrown at you, it doesn’t mean that the person/situation/god is unfair to you. Maybe you should have prepared for lot more than what you did.


Now that we have removed “unfair client” from our life, let’s admit there are different types of people/clients.

  • One who appreciates your effort more than the results achieved
  • Don’t go overboard in singing your praises but also never miss an opportunity to send a small thank you note when you have done a really good job
  • Those who strongly believe that they deserve all this and more…so, well, why should they appreciate you for something that is their fundamental right

You guessed it right, tough clients fall in the last category. I am listing down what my experience has taught me, please feel free to share what has worked in your case.

  • Don’t be a naysayer: Trust me implicitly on this. Don’t start your relationship with a “NO”. I agree, they will act difficult and expect, or shall I say demand, the sun, the moon or even worse – Krypton. But saying no is not an option – not in the beginning of your relationship. You have to deliver to the best of your abilities and more, and win the trust of this client. Just don’t lose hope. They will start trusting you and your intelligence. The difference is some will see it in a month’s time while others will be cautious and might take a year. Once that transition happens, the client will consult you for everything, will allow you to say no and change their plan completely. It is all about showcasing that you are on their side and will move heaven and earth to deliver what is best for them and their organization. And believe you me, this same client might end up being your staunch supporter.
  • Always be ready to help:There will be times when things, outside of your work preview, give sleepless nights to your client. Say for example, you are only working on external relations mandate and internal communications is driving your client mad. How about offering help? I am not saying kill yourself, but helping your client once in a while goes a long way in establishing a healthy and a happy relationship.
  • Map on to your client’s internal stakeholders: Find out what will help your clients’ growth. Find out what is their internal stakeholders’ expectations of them. Once you do, you will be in a better position to help your clients. If you are instrumental in their growth, they will definitely acknowledge it and depend more on you. Which is put you in that desired sweet spot.
  • Lend a patient ear: Or both! Sometimes it helps to patiently listen to your clients’ problems. Do step out of your stiff professional self occasionally and let your clients share their stories or their kids’ stories with you. But you need to tread this path with extreme caution. One: don’t sacrifice your personal life and Two: don’t allow the person to bully you or behave improperly. I am speaking from experience, human touch has profound positive impact on your professional relationships. So, stop acting like robots.
  • Record it all: Some clients will stay difficult, no matter how much effort you put in for changing the equation. They will change the brief on every call, mindlessly blame you for every failure and more. Golden rule with such people – record you conversation on emails! Every time you are given a brief record it on an email and share with larger team, including that client, for future reference.
  • And if nothing works – move on: Well, you did your best and nothing changed then move on. Don’t let anyone pull you down – remember, one failed relationship doesn’t define you. You are meant to run better and successful clients relationships. Keep your head high but before you breakup do ask yourself – did I try my level best? Could I have done something else, something better to save this client?

Care to share your experience with difficult clients?

Bhawna Sharma Ningthoujam
Bhawna is a passionate PR professional with around 10 years of experience. She is a fitness freak and a day dreamer. On weekends she can be found hiding in corners of her house wearing a deep frown and a suspense thriller. She is also a PG Wodehouse fan.
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